Web Usability as Part of Your Public Opinion Research Planning

By Denise Eisner

As government departments and agencies ramp up efforts to measure their websites’ performance, they increasingly look to usability testing as one of several tools available to gauge user acceptance and satisfaction and make site improvements. A new set of guidelines by Treasury Board in effect as of June 9, 2009 however demands a new approach in planning usability tests by defining this research approach as public opinion research (POR).

“Quality of service/customer satisfaction studies” is defined in the TBS procedures as POR. What does this mean for Comms and IT teams planning usability testing in the near term or next fiscal year?

If your usability testing is planned before fiscal year end, the procedures stipulate that approval comes from the minister or equivalent role per the Financial Administration Act. Given the challenges in bringing such a request to that level in time to conduct testing by March 31, the risk to web projects is high.

The good news is that web teams have time to prepare their annual POR plan for next fiscal year. Find a management champion to support the project, then get together a small group of stakeholders from the appropriate teams to build a proposal. Present your approach to management for consideration and approval according to your organization’s planning timelines.

How to prepare your usability plan for next fiscal

After you have thoroughly digested the TBS procedures, build a solid case for your future usability testing by including these components in your proposal:

  • Project Background – tie the methodology to your business and site goals per your Report on Plans and Priorities, other departmental/agency planning documents and the website strategy
  • Information Needs – define specifically the goals of the research
  • Partnerships – specify any extra-departmental partners and explain the nature of these partnerships
  • Rational and Intended Use of Research – How the research will support department or government priorities, benefit Canadians, and is prescribed by legislative, policy, evaluation or litigation requirement. Also specify the privacy risks of collecting information, if appropriate.
  • Target Populations – description of the participant demographics
  • Methodology and Scope – method for collecting data with detail on any personal information to be collected
  • Deliverables – nature of research outputs, i.e. format
  • Anticipated Timeline – when the research will be conducted and the deliverables completed
  • Budget – costs for contracted services, etcs.
  • Project Authority – name and title

Ideally, your proposal will reference a completed Annual Research Plan which is associated to an overall performance measurement framework approved by senior management. In the absence of those key guidance documents, strengthen your proposed approach by tying your usability testing goals to future development of these web channel components.


Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


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